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Watching the world go by in El Cajon

Intersection of Mollison and Broadway provides a peek at humanity

A bucolic scene behind a dumpster at Rocket Mart.
A bucolic scene behind a dumpster at Rocket Mart.

Above the intersection were Mollison and Broadway collide in El Cajon floats an orange ball, planetary, emblazoned with a sapphire 76. From the sign on the Rocket mini-mart below, a rocket blasts off toward the ball. At night, the cars at the pumps gleam under the canopy lights like sleek spacecraft, readying for launch. Pedestrians wait at the corner for the lights to stop the constant rush of traffic. Just past the station on Broadway is a bus stop. So many missions, so many destinations. A grocery run, a commute to work, a meet-up with friends. Personal growth, a better financial future. The discovery of who we are and how we fit into the big picture. Everybody going somewhere, and I’m already home, watching all this through my kitchen window.

I am, in addition to being a makeup artist, a Brand Ambassador. An older co-worker once asked me where I lived. “East County,” I responded. “I’m sorry,” she said. Her stale jest did not impact me. I’m not sorry. The racket of my El Cajon intersection is agitating, but the noise also indicates progress, a quest for adventure, the escape from stifling circumstances. The concrete commotion of El Cajon may be a peace thief, but I can explore other parts of San Diego that harbor rejuvenating power. An essential perk of living where I do is easy access to highways. The 8 is just a block south on Mollison; a recent half-hour drive to Mission Beach rewarded me with soothing surf and a soggy $100 bill. If I head down Broadway to Graves Avenue, right past Target, I can merge onto the 67 North to the 52 West to the 805 North to the 5 North to the Whole Foods in Del Mar and their perfect pecan tarts.

Above the intersection floats an orange ball, planetary.

But it’s not like I have to leave to find life. Some mornings from my window, while sipping a banana smoothie or warm green tea, I will watch a Latina in her late thirties on a smoke break outside Rocket Mart. Every morning, a black woman in her mid-fifties whirs up in her indigo blue wheelchair. The Latina steps down from the curb to greet her companion, taking one last pull before crushing the cigarette under her right ankle boot. Smoke swirls up, mingling with the breeze. The two seem to profit equally from their daily exchange; within seconds the sound of their soft chatter and laughter floats through my open window.

Lately, I’ve been wondering if the Latina owns the Honda parked in front of the 76 — the one with the faded blue paint and smudged windows displaying a crooked “For Sale” sign. I notice the Honda because, when the midday traffic is dense and unyielding, the vibration sometimes sets off the car’s alarm. Yes, being wedged between two busy streets can be noisy: car alarms, honking horns, screeching tires, revving engines, and shrieking sirens as emergency vehicles race to crash scenes. I think of the woman in the wheelchair and wonder how her particular vehicle has affected her individual mission.

* * *

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It’s late night on New Year’s Eve 2022, and I have just placed a bottle of Chandon Brut in the freezer to chill before popping it at midnight when I hear loud babble from the 76 lot. I peek out the window and see a forty-something white female, almost certainly homeless, waving and shouting at people visible only to her. But the noise isn’t what holds my attention, not at first. I’m too amazed by her shiny sequined party dress. The emerald paillettes are huge, and reflect the canopy lights like a flashing green disco ball. Her pale skin is soiled. A sky-blue Converse is laced up on her right foot, but on her left foot – nothing. I’m shocked at how carefully coiffed her ash blond hair is as she prances and giggles around her loaded shopping cart. The layered cut is short, with neatly flipped ends, as if she recently tipped a stylist and skipped out of the salon.

Come get ready for takeoff!

Then the woman launches into song, and I lean closer to the screened window, hoping to catch the lyrics. Her voice is gravelly, like a neglected Ford Falcon engine, but the words and tune are audible. It’s Billie Holiday:

Good morning, heartache, you old gloomy sight

Good morning, heartache, thought we’d said goodbye last night...

As she sings, she sways and flaps her hands and wanders from one end of the cart to the other. After the last line, Good morning heartache, sit down, she pliés, then makes a bold, flying leap into the air. But when she lands, her bare left foot doesn’t support her, and she slams to the ground, landing on her derrière. For a moment her head hangs down, and a few sob-like sounds escape from her mouth. Then suddenly, she jerks her head back and cackles What sound like gunshots explode and echo in the distance; premature celebrations of the New Year. Still laughing, the entertainer staggers to her feet, bows to her imaginary audience, then stumbles to her cart. Her real audience — me — is awestruck by the sequins, strangeness, and performance. A Pontiac driver pulls in and makes a quick Rocket purchase, unaware of what he has just missed. I gaze at the unsheltered female and at the mint condition Firebird as they veer out of the lot in opposite directions.

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A bucolic scene behind a dumpster at Rocket Mart.
A bucolic scene behind a dumpster at Rocket Mart.

Above the intersection were Mollison and Broadway collide in El Cajon floats an orange ball, planetary, emblazoned with a sapphire 76. From the sign on the Rocket mini-mart below, a rocket blasts off toward the ball. At night, the cars at the pumps gleam under the canopy lights like sleek spacecraft, readying for launch. Pedestrians wait at the corner for the lights to stop the constant rush of traffic. Just past the station on Broadway is a bus stop. So many missions, so many destinations. A grocery run, a commute to work, a meet-up with friends. Personal growth, a better financial future. The discovery of who we are and how we fit into the big picture. Everybody going somewhere, and I’m already home, watching all this through my kitchen window.

I am, in addition to being a makeup artist, a Brand Ambassador. An older co-worker once asked me where I lived. “East County,” I responded. “I’m sorry,” she said. Her stale jest did not impact me. I’m not sorry. The racket of my El Cajon intersection is agitating, but the noise also indicates progress, a quest for adventure, the escape from stifling circumstances. The concrete commotion of El Cajon may be a peace thief, but I can explore other parts of San Diego that harbor rejuvenating power. An essential perk of living where I do is easy access to highways. The 8 is just a block south on Mollison; a recent half-hour drive to Mission Beach rewarded me with soothing surf and a soggy $100 bill. If I head down Broadway to Graves Avenue, right past Target, I can merge onto the 67 North to the 52 West to the 805 North to the 5 North to the Whole Foods in Del Mar and their perfect pecan tarts.

Above the intersection floats an orange ball, planetary.

But it’s not like I have to leave to find life. Some mornings from my window, while sipping a banana smoothie or warm green tea, I will watch a Latina in her late thirties on a smoke break outside Rocket Mart. Every morning, a black woman in her mid-fifties whirs up in her indigo blue wheelchair. The Latina steps down from the curb to greet her companion, taking one last pull before crushing the cigarette under her right ankle boot. Smoke swirls up, mingling with the breeze. The two seem to profit equally from their daily exchange; within seconds the sound of their soft chatter and laughter floats through my open window.

Lately, I’ve been wondering if the Latina owns the Honda parked in front of the 76 — the one with the faded blue paint and smudged windows displaying a crooked “For Sale” sign. I notice the Honda because, when the midday traffic is dense and unyielding, the vibration sometimes sets off the car’s alarm. Yes, being wedged between two busy streets can be noisy: car alarms, honking horns, screeching tires, revving engines, and shrieking sirens as emergency vehicles race to crash scenes. I think of the woman in the wheelchair and wonder how her particular vehicle has affected her individual mission.

* * *

Sponsored
Sponsored

It’s late night on New Year’s Eve 2022, and I have just placed a bottle of Chandon Brut in the freezer to chill before popping it at midnight when I hear loud babble from the 76 lot. I peek out the window and see a forty-something white female, almost certainly homeless, waving and shouting at people visible only to her. But the noise isn’t what holds my attention, not at first. I’m too amazed by her shiny sequined party dress. The emerald paillettes are huge, and reflect the canopy lights like a flashing green disco ball. Her pale skin is soiled. A sky-blue Converse is laced up on her right foot, but on her left foot – nothing. I’m shocked at how carefully coiffed her ash blond hair is as she prances and giggles around her loaded shopping cart. The layered cut is short, with neatly flipped ends, as if she recently tipped a stylist and skipped out of the salon.

Come get ready for takeoff!

Then the woman launches into song, and I lean closer to the screened window, hoping to catch the lyrics. Her voice is gravelly, like a neglected Ford Falcon engine, but the words and tune are audible. It’s Billie Holiday:

Good morning, heartache, you old gloomy sight

Good morning, heartache, thought we’d said goodbye last night...

As she sings, she sways and flaps her hands and wanders from one end of the cart to the other. After the last line, Good morning heartache, sit down, she pliés, then makes a bold, flying leap into the air. But when she lands, her bare left foot doesn’t support her, and she slams to the ground, landing on her derrière. For a moment her head hangs down, and a few sob-like sounds escape from her mouth. Then suddenly, she jerks her head back and cackles What sound like gunshots explode and echo in the distance; premature celebrations of the New Year. Still laughing, the entertainer staggers to her feet, bows to her imaginary audience, then stumbles to her cart. Her real audience — me — is awestruck by the sequins, strangeness, and performance. A Pontiac driver pulls in and makes a quick Rocket purchase, unaware of what he has just missed. I gaze at the unsheltered female and at the mint condition Firebird as they veer out of the lot in opposite directions.

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